In March 2020, the UK government introduced a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Businesses that had to close or cut back could put staff on furlough and the scheme would allow employers to claim 80% of workers’ wages up to £2500 per month. This would be passed on to workers.
There was large-scale uptake of the scheme. By the end of August, 9.6 million employees were on furlough (28% of the workforce) from around 1.2 million employers (61% of eligible employers). The scheme significantly stemmed the rise in unemployment. The claimant count rose 121% from March to August from 1.24 million to 2.74 million, far less than it would have done without the furlough scheme.
Since 1 August the level of support has been reduced in stages and is due to end on 31 October. It will then be replaced by a new ‘Job Support Scheme (JSS)‘ running from 1 November 2020 to 30 April 2021. Initially, employees must work at least 33% of their usual hours. For hours not worked, the government and the employer will pay a third each. There would be no pay for the final third. This means that an employee would receive at least 77.7% (33% + (2/3)67%) of their full pay – not far short of the 80% under the furlough scheme.
Effects on unemployment
Will the scheme see a substantial rise in unemployment, or will it be enough to support a gradual recovery in the economy as more businesses are able to reopen or take on more staff?
On first sight, it might seem that the scheme will give only slightly less job protection than the job furlough scheme with employees receiving only a little less than before. But, unlike the previous scheme, employers will have to pay not only for work done, but also an additional one-third for work not done. This is likely to encourage employers to lay off part of their staff and employ the remainder for more than one-third of their usual hours. Other firms may simply not engage with the scheme.
What is more, the furlough scheme paid wages for those previously employed by firms that were now closed. Under the new scheme, employees of firms that are forced to stay closed, such as many in the entertainments industry, will receive nothing. They will lose their jobs (at least until such firms are able to reopen) and will thus probably have to look for a new job. The scheme does not support them.
The government acknowledges that some people will lose their jobs but argues that it should not support jobs that are no longer viable. The question here is whether some jobs will eventually become viable again when the Covid restrictions are lifted.
With Covid cases on the rise again and more restrictions being imposed, especially at a local level, it seems inevitable that unemployment will continue to rise for some time with the ending of the furlough scheme and as the demand for labour remains subdued. The ending of the new scheme in April could compound the problem. Even when unemployment does begin to fall, it may take many months to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Update: expansion of the scheme
On 9 October, with Covid-19 cases rising rapidly in some parts of the country and tighter restrictions being imposed, the government announced that it was extending the scheme. From 1 November, employees of firms in certain parts of the country that would be required to close by the government, such as bars and restaurants, would be paid two-thirds of their previous wages by the government.
Critics of this extension to the scheme argue many firms will still be forced to shut because of lack of demand, even though they are not legally being required close. Employees of such firms will receive nothing from the scheme and will be forced onto Universal Credit. Also, the scheme will mean that many of the workers who do receive the money from the government will still face considerable hardship. Many will previously have been on minimum wages and thus will struggle to manage on only two-thirds of their previous wages.
- Job Support Scheme: What will I be paid after furlough?
BBC News, Eleanor Lawrie (1/10/20)
- Chancellor unveils new Job Support Scheme and extends self-employed grant
MSE News, Callum Mason (24/9/20)
- Sunak has bought himself time, but his big test will come as crisis eases
IFS Newspaper article, Paul Johnson (28/9/20)
- The businesses that feel left behind by Sunak’s jobs support scheme
Channel 4 News, Paul McNamara (25/9/20
- Covid: Jobs scheme ‘won’t stop major rise in unemployment’
BBC News (25/9/20)
- How the new Job Support Scheme will work
FT Adviser, Richard Churchill (30/9/20)
- Covid scheme: UK government to cover 22% of worker pay for six months
The Guardian, Phillip Inman (24/9/20)
- Hard winter ahead as Sunak tries to stop job losses hitting postwar record
The Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/9/20)
- Job Support Scheme ‘won’t reduce job losses’
Personnel Today, Ashleigh Webber (25/9/20)
- Sunak’s new job support scheme offers warm words but no escape from the coming unemployment chill
The Conversation, David Spencer (24/9/20)
- If people on furlough were counted as unemployed, find out what would have happened to the unemployment rate between March and August 2020.
- If an employer were previously employing two people doing the same type of job and now has enough work for only one person, under the Job Support Scheme would it be in the employers’ financial interest to employ one worker full time and make the other redundant or employ both of the workers half time? Explain your arguments.
- What are the arguments for and against the government supporting jobs for more than a few months?
- What determines the mobility of labour? What policies could the government pursue to increase labour mobility?
- Find out what policies to support employment or wages have been pursued by two other countries since the start of the pandemic. Compare them with the policies of the UK government.
Lloyds Banking Group has announced that it plans to reduce its labour force by 9000. Some of this reduction may be achieved by not replacing staff that leave, but some may have to be achieved through redundancies.
The reasons given for the reduction in jobs are technological change and changes in customer practice. More banking services are available online and customers are making more use of these services and less use of branch banking. Also, the increasingly widespread availability of cash machines (ATMs) means that fewer people withdraw cash from branches.
And it’s not just outside branches that technological change is impacting on bank jobs. Much of the work previously done by humans is now done by software programs.
One result is that many bank branches have closed. Lloyds says that the latest planned changes will see 150 fewer branches – 6.7% of its network of 2250.
What’s happening in banking is happening much more widely across modern economies. Online shopping is reducing the need for physical shops. Computers in offices are reducing the need, in many cases, for office staff. More sophisticated machines, often controlled by increasingly sophisticated computers, are replacing jobs in manufacturing.
So is this bad news for employees? It is if you are in one of those industries cutting employment. But new jobs are being created as the economy expands. So if you have a good set of skills and are willing to retrain and possibly move home, it might be relatively easy to find a new, albeit different, job.
As far as total unemployment is concerned, more rapid changes in technology create a rise in frictional and structural unemployment. This can be minimised, however, or even reduced, if there is greater labour mobility. This can be achieved by better training, education and the development of transferable skills in a more adaptive labour force, where people see changing jobs as a ‘normal’ part of a career.
Lloyds Bank cuts 9,000 jobs – but what of the tech future? Channel 4 News, Symeon Brown (28/10/14)
Lloyds Bank confirms 9,000 job losses and branch closures BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (28/10/14)
Lloyds job cuts show the technology axe still swings for white collar workers The Guardian, Phillip Inman (28/10/14)
Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions Cabinet Office (July 2009)
Fair access to professional careers: a progress report Cabinet Office (30/5/12)
- Is a reduction in banking jobs inevitable? Explain.
- What could banks do to reduce the hardship to employees from a reduction in employment?
- What other industries are likely to see significant job losses resulting from technological progress?
- Distinguish between demand-deficient, real-wage, structural and frictional unemployment. Which of these are an example, or examples, of equilibrium unemployment?
- What policies could the government pursue to reduce (a) frictional unemployment; (b) structural unemployment?
- What types of industry are likely to see an increase in employment and in what areas of these industries?
UK unemployment now stands at 2.47 million, which is a fall of 34,000 people in the three months to May. Meanwhile, the claimant count, which measures the number of individuals claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, fell by 20,800 between May and June to stand at 1.46 million.
The total number in employment increased by some 160,000 in the three months to May to reach 28.98 million. The increase in the number of individuals in work is largely due to an increase in the number of part-time workers, which now stands at some 27%. The development of the flexible firm has played a huge role in creating more and more part-time jobs.
Although declining unemployment is good news, and the jobless rate of 7.8% is now comparable with the EU and the US, there are suggestions that it may rise again next year. Indeed, unemployment is expected to peak at nearly 3 million in 2012 (10%) and an employer’s group has said that the UK may face serious job deficits for the next decade. As more and more jobs are lost in the public sector, estimates suggest that the economy must grow by 2.5% per year from now until 2015, in order to compensate these losses with extra jobs in the private sector.
As John Philpott, the Chief Economic Adviser at the CIPD said:
“A slightly milder growth outcome – which many would consider a decent recovery in output given the various strong headwinds at present facing the economy – is easily as imaginable as the OBR’s central forecast and would leave unemployment still close to 2.5 million by 2015, meaning Britain faces at least half a decade of serious prolonged jobs deficit.”
So, although the fall in the jobless rate is undoubtedly good news, the uncertain future for unemployment in the UK, will put a slight dampener on this news.
UK unemployment declines to 2.47m BBC News (14/7/10)
Economy Tracker BBC News (14/7/10)
Unemployment to peak at 3m by 2012 Telegraph (14/7/10)
Labour market report to show outlook for jobs worse than OBR projections Guardian, Katie Allen (14/7/10)
Part-time work boosts UK employment rate Sky News, Hazel Tyldesley (14/7/10)
Unemployment figures: what the experts say Guardian, Katie Allen (14/7/10)
Labour market statistics latest: Employment ONS
Labour Market Statistical Bulletin – July 2010 ONS
Labour market statistics: portal page ONS
- How is unemployment measured in the UK? Which is the most accurate method?
- What is the flexible firm and how has it allowed more part-time jobs to be created?
- Why is unemployment expected to rise again in the next few years?
- The ONS has reported that wage growth has eased sharply. How will this, along with falling unemployment rates, affect household incomes and consumption? Will one effect offset the other?
- Brendan Barber in the Guardian article, ‘Unemployment figures – what the experts say’, wrote that unemployment lags behind the rest of the economy. Why is this?
- What type of unemployment are we experiencing in the UK? Illustrate this on a diagram.
- Consider the government’s plans in terms of spending cuts. How are they likely to affect the rate of unemployment in the UK?
With the majority of developed countries now moving out of recession, many people will think the worst is over. But for some countries and some people, there may be worse to come. The single currency in the eurozone was introduced in 1999 and in December 2009, the eurozone saw its highest level of unemployment at 10%. There are now 23 million people unemployed across the 16 countries that make up the eurozone and many of those people reside in Spain, where unemployment has reached a 12-year high of 18.8% and is even expected to reach 20%.
Interest rates in the eurozone and in the UK have been maintained at 1% and 0.5% respectively, and inflation has seen a rise in both places. Whilst in the eurozone inflation remains well below the inflation target, in the UK there has been a rapid rise to 2.9% to December 2009 (see Too much of a push from costs but no pull from demand)
While Spain is suffering from mass unemployment, Greece is struggling with the burden of a huge budget deficit. The former European Central Bank Chief Economist, Otmar Issing, has said that any bailout of Greece would severely damage the Monetary Union and “The Greek disease will spread”. With concern that Greece will not be able to service its debt, there is speculation that the country will be forced out of the currency bloc. However, the chair of the single currency area’s finance ministers said that Greece will not leave the eurozone and does not believe that a state of bankruptcy exists.
So, what’s behind rising unemployment, rising inflation and rising budget deficits and how are they likely to affect the eurozone’s recovery?
Eurozone inflation rises to 0.9% BBC News (15/1/10)
Unemployment sector remains beat in Eurozone pressuring price levels FX Street (29/1/10)
greek bailout would hurt Eurozone – Germany’s Issing Reuters (29/1/10)
Eurozone unemployment rate hits 10% BBC News (29/1/10)
Greece will not go bust or leave Eurozone Reuters, Michele Sinner (27/1/10)
Eurozone unemployment hits 10% AFP (29/1/10)
New rise in German job loss total BBC News (28/1/10)
Spain unemployment nears 12 year high Interactive Investor (29/1/10)
- How do we define unemployment? What type of unemployment is being experienced in the eurozone?
- Why do you think unemployment levels have risen in the eurozone and in Spain in particular? Illustrate this on a diagram.
- What are the costs of unemployment for (a) the individual (b) governments and (c) society?
- What explanation can be given for rising levels of both unemployment and inflation?
- Inflation in the eurozone increased to 0.9%. What are the factors behind this? Illustrate the effects on a diagram.
- Greece’s forecast budget deficit for 2009 is 12.7% of GDP, but Greece has said it will reduce it to 8.7% of GDP. How does the Greek government intend to do this and what are the likely problems it will face?
- Why could bailing out Greece hurt the eurozone?
The financial crisis and economic downturn have started to impact on unemployment which, in the UK, has risen at the fastest rate for 17 years. A study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said that the downturn may add 20 million to the global unemployment total bringing the figure to around 210 million.
Unemployment rises at fastest rate in 17 years Times Online (15/10/08)
Smoke clears to reveal the monster of rising unemployment Guardian (19/10/08)
Unemployment total may be more than 2 million by Christmas Guardian (16/10/08)
Back to the future? No, thanks Guardian (15/10/08)
White collar workers next victims as unemployment accelerates Times Online (16/10/08)
World jobless ‘to add 20 million’ BBC News Online (20/10/08)
UK recession is here to stay, experts warn Telegraph (26/10/08)
Recession Britain: Just how bad is it … and will it get much worse? The Independent (25/10/08)
||Explain the likely impact of the economic downturn on the UK labour market.
||Discuss the view that “Unemployment won’t be solved by labour market flexibility ……. “.
||Assess policies that governments around the world can adopt to try to mitigate the likely impact of a 20 million rise in unemployment.